PROVO, Utah – Keepers in soccer are used to sacrificing their bodies as the attempt to prevent the opposing team from getting the ball into the net.
Skyridge junior keeper Cole Barker did just that in Friday’s Region 4 battle against Westlake in Lehi — and paid a heavy price.
But if he ends up being hurt, he can face it with the knowledge that his injury preserved a 1-0 victory for his Falcons.
With under a minute to play, the Thunder were pushing hard up the field, desperate to get an equalizer while Skyridge put just as much effort into trying to keep Westlake from scoring.
Thunder senior forward Drew Brown got to the ball and made a brilliant move near the corner of the penalty box, drilling a gorgeous shot toward the far post that looked destined to be the tying goal.
That was until Barker hurled himself high into the air, stretching out as far as he could and somehow managing to snag the ball before crashing hard to the ground.
The impact was so violent that Barker didn’t get up off the ground for a long time and had to be carted off the field — but it proved to be enough.
“That was big,” Skyridge head coach Jerry Preisendorf said. “It’s not my favorite way of winning, just trying to keep people on the net, because I think we’re better than that. We should be possessing the ball down the field. That’s something we have to work on, but a win is a win is a win is a win, especially in this region, the ‘region to death.’”
The battle of two of the top teams in the league lived up to the billing as both squads had their moments.
The home team was able to get the first big break as they were able to push into Westlake’s penalty box.
“(Senior Austin Wallace) made a combination and got through, then a defender tripped him in the box,” Preisendorf said. “Ian Nielson (also a senior) stepped and took the penalty kick, putting it in the net. Austin and Ian played all 80 minutes in the middle, which takes a lot of endurance.”
That proved to be all the scoring that the Falcons could manage — but it was all they needed thanks to some strong play at the backend.
“We’ve had one other shutout, so that was great for the defense especially,” Preisendorf said. “We were trying to do things a little bit different and so I thought the boys did really well there. I thought the first 20 minutes were good. Playing that way for 80 minutes instead of 20 would be nice.”
On the other side, Westlake once again was able to make a lot of passes but had a tough time overcoming an early deficit.
The Thunder, who won a postseason tournament after the 2020 season was canceled, feel like they are getting everyone’s best shot, so they know they have to rise to the challenge.
Seizing the momentum is also big for Westlake, since falling behind allows opponents to drop defenders team and limit the opportunities for the Thunder possession game to create opportunities.
Both Skyridge and Westlake hope to continue to improve as they move through April and begin building toward the state playoffs.
“We’re probably in the top five in the state now, but to be the top one we’ve got to get over that hump of just being comfortable with where we’re at and keep working every practice,” Preisendorf said. “That’s something our players have done and they constantly want to learn. I think if we can get to where we have the patience that we need, we could be really good. We’ve got to have patience in the way we play.”
The Falcons (8-2, 2-1) next play at Lone Peak on April 21 while the Thunder (7-3, 2-2) will host league-leading Corner Canyon on the same evening.
Both games are scheduled to start at 7 p.m.